Ask an Expert: The Stationer

Photo: Brad Paris

Bernard Maisner

For 25 years you did lettering for advertising, record albums, and the like. Five years ago, you began doing custom work, including wedding stationery. Why?
My friends were getting married and they didn’t like any of the stationery they saw. Gown design, catering, and event design were getting better, but stationery was just dull. So I set out to create the most beautiful stationery I could imagine.

Describe your work.
My primary lettering—Script Style—fuses eighteenth-century European copperplate with American Spencerian styles, modified to keep it historically referential yet modern. I have three styles, all of which are based on the historical writing of different countries: French, Italian, and American. But I can do any lettering, from graffiti to medieval illumination.

And your work is hand-done, start to finish?
Yes. I obsess over every detail. My engravers are true artists. Because my calligraphy is so detailed, it is difficult to reproduce. My printers love and hate me.

But your clients never waver. Who are they?
They range from movie stars to socialites to secretaries—what they share is an attraction to artistry. I’ve had couples with limited budgets hire me because they love the stationery so much that they’re willing to sacrifice spending on other aspects of their wedding.

Thermography is an inexpensive alternative to engraving. Would you consider it?
It’s basically flat printing with a little powder, like yeast, in the ink. The ink heats up and swells, making the thermography look like engraving. But it also makes my calligraphy get fat. Engraving holds the fine lines much better.

What do your clients tend toward?
Gold script on white is the most popular style, and I offer different levels of embellishment. I downplay bows, color, and paper in favor of the writing itself. That becomes the meaningful element, a bit of theater, a sequence of reading, looking, touching.

And so often it is overlooked.
There is a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that contains the phrase, “I unsealed the vial mystical …” I feel this is my duty as a stationer: to create this magical package inside an envelope that is unsealed.

What quirky customizations have you been asked to do?
I did one invitation that was fancy calligraphy on cardboard and one with white lettering on black laminate; it looked like snow in the evening. Another incorporated a drawing the bride made when she was only six. Now I’m working on an oversize card with engraved, hand-colored dragonflies.

What would you rather not see as part of the invitation?
I try to dissuade people from putting menu [options] on the reply card. The most elegant just say RSVP. The less you put on the reply card, the more personal your guests’ reply will be, and that is something to be cherished.

Your lettering is so admired, couples are using it in unique ways. Give me some examples, aside from that great tie you’re wearing.
It has been printed on napkins and woven into custom-made tablecloths. It has even been projected in light onto a dance floor.

What do you think of your peers’ work?
I am glad there are so many points of view. Nothing is for everyone. That is why it is such a great country. So many choices.

Although Maisner thinks that cancellation marks do not destroy a wedding invitation’s envelope—“they are beautiful in that they document your wedding in time and history”—some of his clients have opted to have their invitations hand-delivered via messenger service. If this high-cost option sounds appealing, try Manhattan Express Courier, a 19-year-old business; they get orders like this “twice a week” ($8 per invitation for same-day delivery in Manhattan; $25 in Brooklyn).


Ask an Expert: The Stationer